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Saturday 17 May 2014


My 3x great uncle Joseph Angus was, like his father in law William Brodie Gurney before him, a central figure in several Baptist institutions in the nineteenth century. Like Gurney, Angus was heavily involved in the missionary work of the denomination as secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society; but like all Baptists, Angus saw education as the key to redemption, to self-improvement and therefore to making oneself more useful in the service of God.

Joseph Angus (1816-1902)
unknown artist

His greatest achievement was as head of Stepney Baptist College which trained young men to be ministers. Angus and his closest friend, my great great grandfather William Augustus Salter (1812-1879), trained there in the 1830s. Angus returned to lead the institution in 1849 and remained in that post until 1893. Under his leadership the college thrived and in 1856 moved from the east end of London to Regent’s Park in the centre of the city.

It continues today as Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and Joseph’s books still form the heart of its Angus Library, the largest collection of Baptist literature in the world. (For example it’s the only place I know that has a copy of the sermon delivered by their old college head Rev WH Murch at William Augustus’s inauguration as minister.)

Rev Joseph Angus (bearded) and Rev William Augustus Salter (seated) on the occasion of the marriage of Salter’s daughter Louisa in 1867 – both men conducted the wedding service

Through his position at Regent’s Park he was invited in 1859 to be an examiner in English at London University, which both he and William Augustus had attended as students. He served for ten years as examiner but seems to have given that up when, in 1870, he was elected as a representative for Marylebone on the new London Schools Board.

It is astonishing that it is still less than 150 years since the education of our children became a public obligation. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 made it possible (but not compulsory) for local boroughs to build schools and insist on the attendance of children. London was unique in creating a single board to oversee all its boroughs, and the LSB was the first directly elected body of any kind (not just education) to serve the whole of the city.

In its original form the LSB lasted only 34 years, but the systems and values established during its lifetime continued to influence the provision of education in London long afterwards. Members were elected every three years, and Joseph Angus served on the Board for 12 of those 34 years in three spells (1870-1873, 1876-1882 and 1894-1897).

The London School Board in session in 1895 during Joseph Angus’s last term as a member – he may be the white-bearded figure in the middle row on the right of the picture

The LSB was absorbed into the new London County Council in 1904; and in 1965 when LCC became the Greater London Council education became the responsibility of the new Inner London Education Authority. The ILEA became a stronghold of the left-wing trade union movement, a thorn in the side of several Conservative council regimes and a political battlefield for competing liberal ideologies. In a move driven entirely by politics rather than educational ideology it was abolished by Norman Tebbit and Michael Heseltine of Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing government in 1990. For the first time in London’s history, education provision was devolved to local borough level, where it remains today.

The present Conservative-led coalition has encouraged the further dissipation of education provision through so-called free schools which opt out of local education authority control. It’s a return to the situation of 1870 where local school boards only topped up the voluntary provision of places by local churches. As I write the government is also calling for the privatisation of child protection services, a shocking abdication of responsibility to our children which Joseph Angus and the other founders of the London School Board would have condemned as I do.

The monogram of the London Schools Board, which built over 400 schools in London and by 1890 provided 350,000 places for school children

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